'I wanted people to realize that these characters are more like us than they are different than us, even though they're 80, 90 years ago,' Gareth Neame says, looking ahead to the show's return.

Credit: Nick Briggs/Everett Collection

Downton Abbey returns Sunday night, with the premiere of its sixth and final season. “It is the end of an era, so there’s a lot of conclusions, a lot of things to wrap up,” executive producer Gareth Neame says of the series’ end. “We join season 6 with many, many things still up in the air.” Many, many things indeed, so there’s much to address before bidding adieu to the Crawley family and their staff.

Romance, family, finance, and more are ahead. As Neame teases, “Anna [Joanne Froggatt] and Bates [Brendan Coyle] are not off the hook [for the murder of Mr. Green], and it remains to be seen whether the Carson [Jim Carter] and Mrs. Hughes [Phyllis Logan] thing, plenty of people propose marriage but it doesn’t always end up as you would expect.”

In terms of the family, “We have the Edith [Laura Carmichael] scenario [with most everyone, except Mary, knowing that she had Marigold out of wedlock with the late Michael Gregson], Mary [Michelle Dockery] not settled in her life, and Robert [Hugh Bonneville] and Cora [Elizabeth McGovern] went through marital issues in the previous season, but it’s not like they were largely resolved.” (For more on where the show left off, read our season five-finale recap here.)

Beyond all that, expect the upstairs-downstairs drama from creator, writer, and producer Julian Fellowes to further explore the changing place of estates, something that the season 6 premiere episode tackles head on. What’s more, Tom (Allen Leech), Rose (Lily James), and other faces from the past will appear this last season.

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These storylines, and others, will play out in all sorts of ways. “All of the characters have got something flying around that needs to be resolved and some of them have very definite, clear endings, either positive or otherwise,” he says. “Other characters won’t necessarily. The camera will just sort of move away from them.”

He adds, “In any event, there are 11 screen hours of Downton drama left to wrap them all up.”

In those remaining hours, Neame wanted to bring the series together as a whole. “I wanted it to feel complete,” he explains. “I wanted it to feel like you could go back and rewatch all the seasons and it would feel like a complete beginning, middle, and end, so having that shape was really important.” (Fans, prepare your binges…)

Additionally, Neame wanted to impart that these stories take place in a different era, but are still very relatable to today. “I wanted the final season to be one that audiences could strongly identify with and connect to,” he explains. “I wanted people to realize that these characters are more like us than they are different than us, even though they’re 80, 90 years ago. Most of the things dramatically that occur to them are things that happen in our own lives.”

He elaborated by saying that your grandmother, for example, could have been like assistant cook Daisy (Sophie McShera), and the children — Sybbie, George, and Marigold — could even be alive today, albeit very elderly. Not to mention, estates like that seen in Downton are still part of the world, as many are open to visit. “It’s almost within living memory,” Neame concludes. “It’s not quite so far away.”

Season 6 of Downton Abbey premieres on Sunday, Jan. 3 at 9/8c on PBS.

Episode Recaps

Downton Abbey PS
Downton Abbey

The war is over, but intrigue, crisis, romance, and change still grip the beloved estate.

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